Volunteer 'brightens up' elderly Man leads talks at nursing homes

June 27, 1993

Frank Wargny of Taneytown has led discussion groups for nursing home residents for 12 years. He now works with residents of the Country Companions senior assisted living home in Taneytown and the Carroll Lutheran Village Health Care Center in Westminster.

Once a week, at each facility, he leads an hourlong discussion of literature, music and current events. The discussions are designed to stimulate the residents' intellects and emotions.

Organization's comments: "He's just wonderful," said Toni Late, director of activities and volunteers at the Carroll Lutheran Village Health Care Center. "They look forward to him every week.

"He's soft-spoken. He's gentle. He's understanding."

She said, "He involves almost everyone in his discussions," and the sessions cheer the residents, some of whom suffer from a range of physical and mental conditions.

Residents are glad to have a person show interest in them, she said, and because Mr. Wargny is of the same generation as some of the residents, they can reminisce together.

The residents "brighten up" because of the classes, she said, adding that more than once, she has seen depressed residents who would not leave their rooms come out to join in the discussion group.

"They would come out for him, but they wouldn't come out for anyone else," she said.

Volunteer's comments: "The discussions range far and wide," said Mr. Wargny, who said he has gotten more out of the sessions than the other participants.

"I've learned hundreds of things," he said.

The main focus, he said, is on literature. Participants talk about short stories and books, but poems about feelings are probably the groups' favorite material.

The groups have particularly enjoyed John Greenleaf Whittier's "Snowbound" and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Evangeline," he said.

Poetry that was disliked in high school may appeal to people in their later years, he said, adding, "We read things too early."

Mr. Wargny also includes snippets from E. D. Hirsh's book "Cultural Literacy" in his discussions to stimulate the members' intellects.

The sessions always finish with some classical music, often an aria or a lively Hungarian dance. The music stimulates the listeners' emotions, he said.

Mr. Wargny said he enjoys hearing the others' stories, such as the time the group was discussing Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a County Churchyard" and one of the group members told about a pilgrimage she had made in her youth to the churchyard of the poem.

The classes have also given the participants a chance to get to know each other better and to learn to care for each other more, he said.

Volunteer's background: Mr. Wargny, 75, was principal of Taneytown Elementary School for 24 years until he retired in 1977. Before that, he had taught high school civics and English.

He is married to Florence Golding Wargny. The couple have two daughters.

Mr. Wargny also does volunteer work for the Lions Club, visiting the sick. He enjoys acrylic painting.

To nominate someone as Volunteer of the Week, call 751-7900 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Nominations may be faxed to the office at 751-7916.

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